Beatrice Melba Smith (born October 29, 1945), known by her stage name, Melba Moore is an American disco, R&B singer and actress. She is the daughter of saxophonist Teddy Hill and R&B singer Bonnie Davis.
Melba Moore was born in 1945 in New York City, New York to parents Teddy Hill and Gertrude Melba Smith, later known as Bonnie Davis. She initially was raised in Harlem, New York until the age of nine when her mother remarried a jazz pianist named Clement Moorman. Moore attended Newark Arts High School in Newark, New Jersey. Her mother, Bonnie Davis had a No. 1 R&B hit with “Don’t Stop Now”, prior to Melba’s birth. Although her biological father was legendary Big Band leader and saxophonist Teddy Hill, it was her stepfather Moorman (who played on “Don’t Stop Now”) who became a prime influence and encouragement in Moore’s musical pursuits and talent, insisting she learn to play the piano. Initially, Moore graduated from college and worked as a music teacher, but soon opted to switch careers. Moore chose her stage name by shortening her stepfather’s surname from Moorman to Moore and using her middle name, “Melba”.
Moore began her performing career in 1967 as Dionne in the original cast of the musical Hair along with Ronnie Dyson and Diane Keaton. Moore replaced Keaton in the role of Sheila. In 1970, Moore won a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical for her role in Purlie (she portrayed Lutiebelle). She would not return to Broadway afterwards until 1978 when she appeared (as Marsinah) with Eartha Kitt in Timbuktu!, but left the show after a few weeks and was replaced by Vanessa Shaw. Following the success of Purlie, Moore landed two big screen film roles, released two successful albums including 1970’s I Got Love and Look What You’re Doing to the Man and co-starred with actor Clifton Davis in the then-couple’s own successful variety television series in 1972. Both Moore and Davis revealed that the show was canceled after its brief run when their relationship came to an end. Moore’s career faced problems after Moore’s managers and accountants left her in 1973. Moore returned to Newark and began singing for benefits. Her career picked up after meeting record manager and business promoter Charles Huggins following a performance at the Apollo Theater in 1974. Marrying in 1975, Moore and Huggins formed Hush Productions, signing notable R&B artists such as Freddie Jackson and Meli’sa Morgan.
In 1975, Moore signed with Buddah Records and released the critically successful R&B album, Peach Melba, which included the minor hit, “I Am His Lady”. The following year, in 1976, Moore scored her first significant hit with the Van McCoy-penned “This Is It“, which reached the Billboard Hot 100, the top twenty position on the R&B chart and also reached the top ten in the UK, becoming her biggest success in that country. In 1976, she scored her third Grammy nomination with the R&B ballad, “Lean on Me”, which had been recorded originally by Vivian Reed and later by Moore’s idol Aretha Franklin who recorded the song as a b-side to her 1971 hit, “Spanish Harlem“. The song is most notable for Moore’s extended long note at the end of the track. In 1983, she re-recorded the song as a tribute to McCoy, who died four years earlier of illness. Throughout the rest of the 1970s, Moore struggled to match the success of This Is It with minor R&B/dance hits, gaining another hit with 1979’s “You Stepped Into My Life”, which was released on Epic Records and hit the top 20 on the R&B charts and also became one of her biggest pop hits.
It wouldn’t be until 1982 when Moore started to gain huge success as a singer signing with Capitol Records and reaching the top 5 on the R&B charts with the dance pop/funk single, “Love’s Comin’ At Ya”, which also hit the top 20 in the UK and became a sizable hit in some European countries for its post-disco sound. A string of R&B hits would follow during this decade including 1983’s “Keepin’ My Lover Satisfied” and “Love Me Right”, 1984’s “Livin’ For Your Love”, 1985’s “Read My Lips”, which later won Moore a fourth Grammy nomination for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance, making her just the third black artist after Donna Summer and Michael Jackson to be nominated in the rock category, and 1985’s “When You Love Me Like This”. In 1986, she scored two number-one R&B hits, including the duet, “A Little Bit More“, with Freddie Jackson and “Falling“. She scored other popular R&B hits including “Love the One I’m With (A Lot of Love)” and “It’s Been So Long”. In 1986, Moore also headlined the CBS television sitcom, Melba (TV show) that debuted the same night as the Challenger explosion and was abruptly canceled shortly thereafter. Her success began to wane as the decade closed, although she managed two further Top 10 R&B hits, “Do You Really (Want My Love)” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (which featured such artists as Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Jeffrey Osborne, Anita Baker and Stephanie Mills).
In the mid-1990s Melba Moore traveled with Gospel Play called “Mama I’m Sorry” aside Gospel’s sisterly duo of Erica and Tina Atkins that was written and Produced by Michael Matthews.
Moore returned to Broadway in 1995 landing a part in Les Misérables. A year later, she started her long-running one-woman show, Sweet Songs of the Soul, later renamed I’m Still Standing.
In 2009 independent label Breaking Records released the EP Book of Dreams, in which Moore was featured. That same year Moore told her life story on TV-One‘s Unsung and later that year released her first R&B album in nearly 20 years, a duet release with Phil Perry called The Gift of Love.
Moore is currently working on a new album which is scheduled to be released in 2011. The album is being produced by Rahni Song and Dominic McFadden, son of the late Gene McFadden of McFadden & Whitehead. Her song called “Love Is” debuted on the R&B charts in 2011 at #87.
Moore is a born-again Christian.